I grew up finding delicacy in feeding troughs.
In stories where wise men lined up perfectly in a row and they didn't emerge until "We Three Kings" began with the drums. Where bed sheets upon the heads of hungry children itching for candy canes. And Jesus, he was plastic. Pearly, perfect plastic.
My Christmas story was rigid. Scripted. Leaving no air for error. My Christmas story was Act 1 meets Act 2, communion, go home, open presents, and forget there ever was a crying soul in a manger that night.
Growing up and into a classical Christmas story that has been tied with the twine of "Christianity," the tender cracks and imperfections exposed themselves as I got up closer. As I dug in deeper. As I questioned God and His realness. As I wondered, why would you ever come to save us in this way?
Mary, she was a judged woman. And Joseph was a proud man, ready to abandon his fiancee for her crime of infidelity. The feeding trough was filthy, a lowly space for animals to drop their waste and heavy bodies. The baby, he was screaming. The night was cold. And the two must have wondered, as they shivered and prayed and waited on their savior, where is the miracle in all of this?
A messy, little story with no edits made along the way.
Not the kind of thing fit to be tied pretty and bound into story books for the eyes of sleepless children. But isn't that much of life? Isn't much of this whole me-standing-beside-you thing just a bunch of clutter and chaos and the coming of great light? Hope. A finally silent night after endless hours of hot tears pouring through.
And then a miracle--in a broken, tired, heaving world--a miracle. A baby and the birth of God's most beautiful characteristic yet: His ache to save us. To take heavy loads off from our shoulders. To deliver us. To give us a kingdom in a poverty-stricken existence. To say unto us, with His birth into flesh, "Hey, you messed up yesterday. And you, yea, you'll mess it up tomorrow. But I kind of, sort of, absolutely love you with every ounce of my being. And nothing you ever do, bad or good, could change that. And I needed a way to prove this to you. So I sent something to you, a gift of sorts, to take away your blame. And your guilt. And your shame. And your anxiety. And your suffering.
So would you take it? Would you take the gift from me?"
I feel sort of silly (I can admit that best) telling people that I think my God came into the world through a 14-year-old virgin, and kings bowed down to him, and He learned the skins of poverty, and he preached but never lavished in the riches of kings, and he died in the most embarrassing of ways. At the age of 33. With folks spitting upon Him. And he, crying. Crying all the while.
What kind of God is that? A lowly, pathetic attempt of a God? Or is it a God that knew, before the whole story even found beginning in a manger, that the only way to bring deliverance to a hungry, hungry people was to deliver himself out into a world in the fleshiest, messiest, most imperfect of manners. No royalty, just poverty. And the whole thing upside down. And that it would take pain, and atrocity, and little to no resolve while treading on this broken earth, to bring a love to us so great that it never learned no limits. Never needed training wheels. Came real & raw & bulging just to envelope a broken thing like me. Maybe that is the act of a God who never sought to prove his ranking, his status, or his capability. Just his love. Just His Love.
This ain't no pretty Christian story.
Not prim. Not pixy. Not perfect.
Not the manger. Nor the virgin. Not the myrrh.
Not made for the ears of Christians alone. Not merely for the ones used to bending their knees and bowing their heads.
This is a story for anyone, and any heart, who has ever needed a savior. Someone to swoop in and convince you with a confidence that you are not alone and that just. you. wait, because even through the unfavorable odds-- a virgin, a bitter fiance, no shelter, no crib--the miracle arrives. And the music sweeps in. And the fog of the night clears. And a star shines so bright that it hypnotizes men to leave their fields & flock to follow.
No, this ain't story for weak hearts and Christian knees.
This is a story, a Christmas story, for any soul that ever needed to know that God can make really beautiful things out of messes. And that He remembered us enough to come down and prove it so.